The saying goes that no individual can truly be understood unless someone walks a mile in their shoes. With that in mind, the NYPD is working to give the public a few steps inside their shoes through the Citizens Police Academy.
The expansive New York City Police Academy in College Point, Queens serves as the training ground for raw recruits who undergo rigorous physical and intellectual exercises in de-escalation, communication, stressful emergencies, and more. The academy also offers private citizens in the Citizens Police Academy a six-week course, one four-hour shift at a time over six weeks, to give participants a glimpse behind the blue line.
“It’s a truncated program where they take the recruit curriculum, trained by Police Academy staff, so you’re getting the same instructors that the officers are getting,” Inspector Maximo Tolentino explained. “The program was established in 1993 as a way for the police in the community to have a better relationship.”
After an extensive instructional process in a classroom setting, the citizens are engaged in lifelike scenarios that a typical officer would encounter on any given day. Instructors roleplay as potential criminals, emotionally disturbed persons, or even bystanders. The exercises are made even more lifelike thanks to convincing sets, similar to something you’d find in a movie studio, where the drills take place — including multi-room apartments; streets lined with parked cars, fire hydrants, stores and banks; and even a train station with a carriage.
Although these sequences are undertaken in a controlled and safe environment, participants say the stress they feel as they attempt to make split-second decisions is very real, which showcases the life and death situations officers face every day.
“It was nerve wracking. But now it gives me a better feel of what the officers go through. I appreciate them even more because you know you hear all this stuff that, or they’re rude or, you know, they’re very aggressive, but now I see firsthand what it is like, even though I’m not actually out there. Yeah, but it does seem very real,” said Delise Ramirez, a citizen in the program.
During the scenarios, the trainees faced armed suspects; an emotionally disturbed person threatening suicide; and a domestic dispute call. In each scenario, they are required to use what they had learned at the instructional seminars to determine use of force, potential danger, innocence, and more. Thanks to the acting talents of the instructors and recreation of city space, several pupils said they experienced tunnel vision which saw them become overwhelmed with the task at hand.
The citizens also had a surprise observer during their exercises: Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. The Commissioner snuck in amidst the trainees to watch the exercise.
Although Shea was jovial, even laughing with those undertaking the training, he took the time to tell amNewYork Metro that while this training is realistic, nothing compares to what officers are charged with facing in real life.
“We ask a lot. We asked them to make split-second decisions when their life is on the line, and they’re not perfect, but they do a very good job. That was a realistic scenario, but to make it more realistic. Let’s throw another 200 people on the call. Let’s have alcohol involved, maybe some people using drugs, maybe the person is wanted for a crime, and now you have to kind of determine why are they acting a certain way,” Commissioner Shea said. “You can’t assume he has a weapon, maybe he’s acting that way because he had a bad day, maybe he’s under the influence of something. So, all of this in a split second, it’s not as easy as you think. And I think the people that are here kind of get a new appreciation for it.”